No matter your occupation or livelihood, the one indicator that points you out as successful is the acquisition of personal Real Estate assets/Landed property in your name, signifying a welcome change from a life of paying rent and living in fear of the landlord’s visit or Demand letter if you begin to delay your rent payments or worst of all, a Notice to Quit being served on you.

However, it’s not exactly over – the Nigerian Real Estate sector is fraught with too many legal risks and is as a result, highly regulated.

You might be thinking it is all over knowing that you made a payment to the Land vendor and signed a document called a Deed of Assignment which the so-called “Agent of the seller” claims his lawyer prepared, but you need to really ask yourself – Is it really over? How can you be 100% sure you bought the right peace of land from the legitimate owner of the land? How are you sure the owner of the land actually sold you a valid and free title to the property you paid for? How sure are you that your title has been registered and secured under law just because you signed a Deed of Assignment?

These issues and more are part of the reasons for this article which aims to deal with the topics of:-

– knowing who is eligible to buy Real Estate in Nigeria;

– knowing how to be sure of the Real Estate asset/Landed property you want to buy;
– knowing what the law says about how to secure your title to Landed Property;

– knowing the requirements needed to register your title to Landed property in different jurisdictions of Nigeria;

– knowing the options available to you if you have possibly fallen victim to Land scammers.

Who can directly buy and own Real Estate in Nigeria?

This is a straightforward question with a straightforward answer – Anyone from the age of 21 years of age and above can buy Real Estate in Nigeria while persons below the age of 21 years can hold equitable or beneficial interest in Real Estate property that can be held in trust by an adult fiduciary/trustee or agent/manager or by virtue of an Inheritance from a Testamentary disposition(Will)/The Administration of Estate Law of a state.

Also, foreigners CANNOT directly own Real Estate property in Nigeria except through company registered in Nigeria and having a Nigerian citizen as a co-member.

How can i be sure of the Real Estate asset i want to buy i.e. how can i be sure that the land vendor is really who he claims to be and that he is selling me a legitimate title? I don’t want to be defrauded.

You can carry out your findings by means of a due diligence measure known as a Search Report carried out at the Land Registry of the state where the property you want to buy is located(this is the Land Registry Directorate/Lagos Lands Bureau for Lagos State & the FCT Department of Lands Administration for Abuja or Federal Land Registry for Federal Land owned in states e.g FHA Real Estate assets).

What are the requirements and procedures for a Land Search Report?

For Lagos :-

– You need to have a copy of the Land Title Certificate displayed by the Vendor/Land seller as his proof of title, an application letter to the Registrar of Titles at the State Land Registry Directorate & a proof of payment of a Regulatory prescribed search fee (3,750.00 Naira as at the last time i checked);

– Pay the search fee at a Bank you’ll be directed to by the land registry staff and collect a customized receipt in the form of a certificate of payment at the bank. Make photocopies of both your Teller and Certificate of Payment which you will be submitting at the Land Registry;

– Return to the land registry where you will be given a form to fill in required information that will include the search applicant’s name, address, phone number, email address, payment details, Certificate of Payment number and amount paid among other things;

– Present these documents to to the officer on duty who will then assist with directing you to a computer where you will carry out an E-search to access the scanned copy of the land Certificate you’re investigating and all the necessary information, the most important being the accuracy of the Survey plan given to you by the Vendor, the details and situation of the landed property, the name of the recognized owner of the property, and the existence of any encumbrance (prior mortgages, Court cases, prior sales of the same piece of land, etc.).

If you’re not too familiar with the process, you might want to consider getting your lawyer to handle this process.

For Abuja :-

– Write an Application letter to the Director of Lands Administration detailing the property information as it appears on the Certificate of Occupancy including the particulars of the supposed owner/vendor of the property, the plot and file numbers, the Certificate of Occupancy number and date details;

– Attach to this application evidence of payment(a customized teller) of a search fee of 10,000.00 Naira for a Residential purpose property or 20,000.00 Naira for a Commercial purpose property ( as at the last time of checking). You will also need to present an original certificate or a right of occupancy for sighting & documentation purposes and a valid means of identification;

– A search on the property will then be carried out by Land Registry staff.

Please note that in addition to a Land Registry search, you will need to also carry out a Corporate search at the Corporate Affairs Commission if the property is sold by a company, you also need to search with the State Probate Registry for a Letter of Administration or Probate Grant if the vendor says the property he is selling was gotten via inheritance. If the property is said to be gotten as part of a share of Community land you need to properly verify this by checking with as many members of the extended family and community as possible.

If the property you wish to buy is developed or a high rise building structure you might need to procure or ask the vendor for a profile of the building designers as well as a certificate of structural integrity as well as technical information on the building foundation quality.

What if the land I want to buy is not registered and has no title documentation attached to it?

In the case of Lagos where this is more of a problem, you will have to carry out what is known as Charting at the State Surveyor-General’s office to ascertain if the land is under Government acquisition or eligible for private ownership.

In some cases, the vendor might tell you that the landed property is covered by an excision( a release of land by the Governor of a state to a Community or a set of Private occupiers by means of a Gazette) which might not be true and can only be confirmed by a Gazette number.

However, you’re in some luck. In Lagos State, the Governor on the 7th of December,2021 granted a full excision on untitled land in Lagos in a bid to curb Land fraud and Land grabbing.

I heard you briefly mention something about a Government “acquisition“. What does it mean if i go ahead and buy this piece of unregistered property and it turns out to be a Government acquisition?

If you buy Unregistered land from the vendor which turns out to be a Government acquisition it simply means you have been scammed.

This illegal practice which forms part of what is called “Omonile” is known to be very rampant in parts of Lagos that include Ibeju-Lekki, Opebi, Ogudu, Gbagada, Egbeda, Oregun, Surulere, Ketu, Idimu, Ojo, Iju, Bariga, and Okokomaiko among others.

Now, buying land of this nature is a gamble. If the land is a pure Government acquisition, you can simply carry out what is called Land Regularization/Ratification which involves buying the same piece of land all over, this time paying directly to the Government.

If the land however is what is called a Government commitment-acquisition, then your money is totally gone and you’re definitely getting no land as Government-committed lands are usually earmarked for dedicated State projects from Government estates and schemes to Power distribution lines, Oil & Gas pipelines, Agricultural schemes, Industrial layouts, etc.

Hence, in order to know if you’re about to buy a legitimate excision, it’s best that you instruct your lawyer to run a check of the land with the Lagos State Real Estate Regulatory Authority (LASRERA).

Okay. What if i want to take your advice and carry out these Due Diligence measures without running the risk of losing this deal to quicker buyers? The piece of land is in a really prime location and i don’t want to lose out, what can I do to make a commitment with the Vendor and show him that i’m serious?

In that case, what you should do is to execute a Contract of Sale which legally binds both of you pending when you carry out your findings and finally complete the sale through a statutorily required Deed of Assignment or Conveyance. This Contract will have the legal effect of invalidating any subsequent discreet sale to a purchaser for a higher value if attempted by the vendor.

You should note that such a Contract of Sale usually requires that you deposit a portion of the Transaction price of the piece of land. It is also prudent to demand that the Vendor under the contract provide every assistance needed to Register your title to the property after the Deed of Assignment has been completed and the Transaction value of the property has been fully paid by you.

Okay. But why do i need to register my title to the property? Won’t just completing the payment and signing the Deed of Assignment or Conveyance be enough to qualify as a complete transfer of property?

No, you’re quite mistaken about the whole thing. By virtue of Section 22 of the Land Use Act 1978, it is a compulsory requirement that every transaction or conveyance of a Statutory Right of Occupancy be registered after getting the consent of the Governor of the State who by virtue of the Act is the Statutory Trustee/Legal ownership repository of all lands within a state. Customary rights of Occupancy are regulated by the Local Government of the area where the land is situated.

What this means is that all Land transactions must be registered with the State Land Registry after getting a Governor’s consent otherwise they will be seemed illegal. So you must commence the Registration process within 30 days of executing the Deed of Assignment.

In practice, what most Land investors do is that since Land Title Registration is usually expensive, slightly complicated and expensive, they simply pass on the burden of Registration as a condition of sale to the final buyers of the land who will then have to pay for a double Registration of the investor’s title and their own title.

So if you’re an investor, you can buy the land, develop it without registering your title, and selling it to end-users on the condition that they will handle your Registration costs as well as theirs.

Okay, I get you clearly now. What does it take to register a title to Real Estate property and how long does it take to obtain a Governor’s consent?

For Lagos you need the following :-

A cover letter to the Land Registry Directorate addressed to the Registrar of Titles seeking for the Governor’s consent signed by the Vendor.
A filled application form 1C for the Governor’s consent dated and signed by the parties to a Land transaction as well as sworn to before a Magistrate.
4 copies of the Deed of Assignment with attached Survey plan copies.
Evidence of payment of Charting & Endorsement fees (10,500.00 Naira as at the last time i checked).
A Photograph of the property.

Tax Clearance Certificates of parties involved in the transaction or Tax Certificates of PAYE Directors of a Limited Liability Company where a party or both parties to the transaction are companies.
4 passport photographs of the Individual Assignee or a Certificate of Incorporation if it is a Registered company.
Payment of a Consent fee of 1.5% of the Transaction value, Capital Gains Tax of 0.5% , Stamp duties valued at 0.5% of the property value, and a Registration fee of 0.5% minus where applicable Neighborhood Improvement Charges valued at 2 Naira per Square Metre multiplied by the number of years the title was held.
Proof of payment of Land Use Charges or Ground rent where applicable.
The entire process of obtaining a Governor’s consent, stamping and registration can take up 6months – 1 year or even more depending on the existence of queries identified in the application which can occur. It is also advisable to get ready at least up to 12% of the Transaction value of the property to cover the costs of Legal Documentation services regarding the Deed of Assignment, Costs associated with the Registration of your title, and costs for professional services used in the process of having your Title Registration carried out.

For Abuja you need the following :-

A completed application for a grant/subsequent grant of a Statutory Right of Occupancy.
Proof of payment of an application processing fee of 100,000.00 Naira for Commercial land and 50,000.00 Naira(as at the last time i checked) at designated banks.
A photocopy of a receipt obtained from the Abuja Geographical Information System (AGIS) upon presentation of the application processing fee teller.
2 passport photographs.
A valid means of Identification.
A Tax Clearance Certificate.
(For land that is to be acquired for Development/Commercial purposes, the following will be required:-

A schematic design of the proposed building.
An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Evidence of Financial & Technical capacity.
Incorporation Certificate, CAC forms and Corporate Tax Clearance Certificates in the case of the applicant being a company.
Building permits in Abuja are handled by the Department of Development Control (DODC).

It should also be noted that the AGIS registers Powers of Attorney over undeveloped portions of land within Abuja while a Deed of Assignment is registered to indicate the conveyance of a title to a developed portion of land within Abuja.

Is there any way of preventing any adverse interest from coming up while I‘m trying to register my title to the property I bought/paid for?

In Lagos, this has been prevented by the introduction of a process known as Deed Recording which involves electronically recording as soon as you commence your application for a Governor’s consent the existence of your transaction with the vendor evidenced by the Deed of Assignment as a prior encumbrance on the property which will always show up in any subsequent search report and which will serve as a Public notice that the said property is not available for sale.

This has served to greatly reduce the occurrence of Land fraud that usually involved selling the same piece of land to two or more subsequent buyers after originally selling the land to a prior purchaser.

While the ease of registering titles to property in Nigeria still has a realistically long way to go, it can be seen from this article that with the right professional guidance, going into Land transactions with a clear understanding of how to secure your title can help in making a better-informed decision either as a Real Estate Investor/Developer or an aspiring landlord.